Peña (11-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history Saturday when she dethroned Nunes (21-5 MMA, 14-2 UFC) of the women’s bantamweight title at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The challenger went in against the heavily-favored Brazil and used to a surprising striking attack to set up a takedown in the second round and quickly forced the finish with a no-hooks rear-naked choke.
The surprise in Peña winning was not only that it happened, but how it happened. Nunes showed little resistance to the choke that ended her reign, and multiple fighters and analysts have questioned her perseverance. Peña thinks the criticism of Nunes’ is too strong, though, because she said the technique she applied was no joke.
“She didn’t have a choice but to tap,” Pena told MMA Junkie on Monday. “She literally was going to get hurt if she didn’t tap. I knew that I had that choke and I knew it doesn’t have to be as deep as it needs to be for a standard rear-naked choke in order to finish it. That was a variation of the rear-naked choke I’ve been working for a while. I knew she was going to have no choice but to tap.”
Although Peña told anyone who would listen prior to UFC 269 that she was going to be the one to unseat Nunes, no one outside of a select few bought into her chances.
Peña had no doubts that his confidence would translate into real-life practice, and she credited the execution to having all the necessary elements firing on all cylinders.
“This sport takes so much out of you mentally, emotionally, physically that you have to be on top and be in the right mind frame and the right state of mind,” Pena said. “I think she was just faking the right mind frame, but my mind frame was 100 percent solid. I wasn’t faking anything and I knew I was in such a great head space mentally that I knew all I needed was for her to show up.”
Peña’s win over Nunes shook up to sport and put new life into the 135-pound division, which had been dominated by Nunes since she won the belt at UFC 200 in July 2016. It also appeared to derail the promotion’s plans for Nunes to fight two-time PFL champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who is a free agent that recent met with the UFC brass.
If Harrison does sign with the UFC, she would compete at women’s featherweight. Peña has said repeatedly she doesn’t have much interest in moving up in weight, and she’s currently unbothered by the idea of Harrison as a potential opponent.
“I think she’s the lesser of the training partners for her and Amanda Nunes,” Peña said. “If that’s the case and I just took out Amanda, I don’t know what kind of position that would put her in. But she’s been fighting the B-leagues. I’ve been fighting in the UFC, I’ve been fighting at the top of the division. I’m fighting in the biggest league of this sport so I’m not paying too much attention to what she’s doing down there.”
Peña said in the immediate aftermath of her win that she would give Nunes an immediate rematch. Nunes has since accepted that offer, but said she needs some time off before going back into another camp and setting a date.
That’s more than fine with Peña, she said, because her short-term plans include a long-overdue vacation to Disney World with her daughter, who turns four in January. Once Peña takes a satisfying break to catch up on family time and enjoy her win, she said she’ll be prepared to talk logistics about the rematch.
“Amanda is the only matchup I think that makes sense for me and giving her that rematch,” Pena said.